An all-encompassing and persistent nothing – stillness and emptiness - echoes from the collage work of Lynn Hatzius. What we are dealing with here – as is the case for all melancholy angels – is deep contemplation and compulsive creativity, as opposed to some sort of unfathomable absence or lack. In 1514, Albrecht Dürer completed an etching called Melancholia I, which has since come to illustrate the highly nuanced and insightful human condition of melancholy. Dürer used a large winged woman sitting with her head in her hands, in his attempt to make visible this concealed internal experience. Whereas during medieval times there was a commonly held belief that melancholy was a state of sloth, during the German Renaissance - as in line with philosophies of the ancients - Dürer and other artists came to view the figure of melancholy to be ‘super awake’, and in the words of art theorist, Erwin Panofsky, to be inactive not due to laziness, but to profound thought.
Bringing new elements to an old story, Hatzius does not leave her lone figures with their head in hands, surrounded by scattered objects suggesting ultimately that emotional turmoil is abstract and impenetrable. Instead she uses a scalpel blade to literally cut beneath the surface making invisible interiority more transparent. Hatzius therefore illustrates - across her entire oeuvre - that even the most complex aspects of being human can become more accessible if connections are made between the mind’s inner workings, relationships and actual physical pain. In both Derailed and After the Quake, the female sitters are presented as ideal from outward appearances - poised, delicate and respectable - whilst from inside the viewer is invited to witness complete catastrophe, total breakdown and utter collapse. In the same way that Frida Kahlo depicts a broken ionic column as her spine in the 1944 painting The Broken Column to try to de-mystify anguish and to articulate emotional pain, Hatzius attempts the same using the site of a train crash and a scene of wartime bombings. The Italian painter, Giorgio de Chirico also depicted people with cityscapes within to reveal their deepest feelings and fears and to confront the viewer with inner workings, rather than an outer veneer. Like that of Hatzius, his work is consistently metaphysical and poetic, with a tendency to repeat particular motifs, for example trains as seen in Derailed, and also empty arcades, as we encounter in the collage Waiting.
Through the highly destructive scenes of Derailed and After the Quake it is made clear that emotional crisis possesses the same intensity as physical pain, and similarly is very difficult to explain or describe. Those suffering psychic pain are left with no useful vocabulary to communicate. As result, attempted descriptions are often too metaphorical or abstract for the listener to understand; for example, “it feels like there is pressure all around my head”, “it feels as though my head is empty”. The attack recounted has a more profound effect when made visible. In the case of Hatzius, emotional wounding is revealed as water breaking through dams in Holding tight, and as laden bound grain sacks in Heaviness. It is not immediately clear what has been inserted into the figures heads in these collages, but in both cases the floodgates and hanging sacks are reminiscent of instruments of torture. As with Derailed and After the Quake, the figures investigated appear highly composed; they are dressed formally in illusory contrast to the struggle that rages within. Hatzius exposes the reality that people live just as closely with death and destruction as they do with new growth and connectivity, such as that which is depicted in Embrace and Patience I and II.
As an idea already touched upon, Hatzius has much in common - both in style and technique - with many of the Surrealist artists. And although there are obvious comparisons to be made between the work of Hatzius and that of the German collage artists Max Ernst and Hannah Höch - with both being interested in the transformation of found material, in metamorphosis from human to animal and in the relation between the fragmentary nature of collage and a psyche broken to pieces - recent work by the artist recalls more revealingly the painted dreamscapes (or at times framed nightmares) of Belgian painter Rene Magritte. Magritte too employed a sort of collage technique, but in paint. Like Hatzius, he would cut out silhouettes and replace the face or body of a well-dressed figure with a landscape. A Friend of Order, painted in 1964, depicts a tree-lined landscape similar to that of Calmness by Hatzius. In both images, but particularly in the latter, there is the sense that the scene of calm provides only a mask for deeper anxieties. The male silhouette in Calmness, used to frame the forest, looks like that of Winston Churchill making one think of war. The lone figure amongst the trees looks isolated and exposed, and the image conjures ideas of suicide. Perhaps this is a reading directed by the work’s companion piece, Tangled, which uses the riggings and masts of a ship to show internal activity. On the one hand the ship speaks of journeying and the desire to set out free and to travel, but on the other, I imagine a body, strung, hung and dangling dead from the ropes.
When Hatzius depicts couples rather than lone figures, the atmosphere changes and it is as though the union with another calms the violence of self-scrutiny. By the sea is a particularly restful image, while Safety reveals - as is also suggested by its title - that tight physical embrace can bring comfort and the ability to overcome challenges. Interestingly, the mountaineer who replaces the couples’ faces in Safety appears close to the conquering summit of an icy snow-capped mountain, whilst in the two collages titled Lost, whereby the subjects are alone facing steep, relentless and uphill climbs, they are pictured at the bottom of the mountain, defeated by the magnitude and scale of the task. As is typical of a melancholic character, and is also observed from the 1514 Dürer etching, Hatzius displays an obsessive focus with the horizon, an interest in elsewhere, and with endless possibilities that simultaneously overwhelm and provide energy. Safety recalls another well-known Magritte painting called The Lovers, completed in 1928. The Lovers embrace and kiss, but both of their heads are shrouded in cloth. The work suggests, in a similar way to Hatzius's collages, that all that is needed is held within: that the external world is of no consequence and that it is blind interiority that really enables us to see.
By the Sea insets seascapes rather than - as is more typical for Hatzius - the Caspar David Friedrich epic and treacherous mountain ranges, into the minds of two lovers. Alongside depictions of reflective lone individuals, both Norwegian Edvard Munch and the contemporary Finnish photographer Elina Brotherus, like Hatzius, also return to the male/female couple looking out over a landscape as a repeated subject in their oeuvre. All of the artists reach for a lover as a way to assuage feelings of past separation (originally and most notably from the mother's body), but whereas for Brotherus in Deux personnages au bord de la mer and for Munch in Two Human Beings (the Lonely Ones), these attempts appear unsuccessful as the couples appear more alone when together, this is not the case for the duos depicted by Hatzius. The Hatzius couple is not, like her lone figures, rendered inactive by reflection, but instead appears driven by physical passion, achievement and by present pinpointed moments situated outside of the vast and the infinite. The couples created do not look out wistfully to the horizon, isolated only within themselves. Instead they allow the landscape to surround them as they look into one another. In a deeply romantic gesture, for Hatzius, a lover brings balance and becomes a landscape, all of potential and the whole world. In the same way that she continues to find and re-attach old printed material, the artist never allows the scars of separation and the pains of isolation - that do likely hurt her most of the time – to bare down heavily on lighter moments of reciprocal connectivity also experienced. Hatzius, like her material, remains hopeful, as though the placing of paper pieces in collage is like the bandaging and healing of wounds.
Rebecca Baillie is an artist and writer based in London, UK, with a PhD in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art Theory